Blog Archives

It’s a New Day!

By: Jennifer Amburgy

I have had several experiences and conversations over the last few weeks that have made me thankful for the phrase “It’s a new day!”  Sometimes in our jobs and in our personal lives we get stuck in a rut and say, “I’ll do it differently the next time I’m in this situation,” or “I’ll change my ways next year/month.” Do we need to wait that long to make a change and make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others?

I am an educational leader, and I have seen numerous teachers look at their current classroom situation (including myself when I had a homeroom), and decide on a Friday to make a change, and by Monday their classroom environment is a new room with vitalization and purpose!

Classroom management not working like you had hoped? No need to wait until you get a new group of students the following year to implement a new management system and organize your classroom in a way to limit distractions during whole group and small groups…do it now!  Do your lessons feel boring to you (imagine how your students feel if you are bored)? Don’t wait until the next semester or year to find ways to engage your students while also covering the CCGPS…do it now! Have you wanted to implement guided reading and/or math groups into your lessons but are scared how to start? You can easily lower your student:teacher ratio with just 2-3 groups to get you started…do it now! Tired of doing things the same way year after year because that’s how it’s always been done? Don’t wait until next year to break the mold…do it now!

Earlier this month I went with a few teachers to the Georgia Educational Technology Conference (GaETC) and we saw numerous ways to integrate technology into lessons. This was my third time to the conference, but I found myself watching others at the conference almost as much as I was watching/listening to the presenters. These first-time participants were so eager to learn ways to embed technology into their lessons, not simply for the sake of using technology, but to give their students experiences/connections with the content that would not be possible without the technological tools.  These teachers were taking notes, tweeting tips to others not able to attend the conference using the hashtag #GaETC13, using the hashtag themselves to follow sessions they were not able to attend, and collaborating with strangers in the building on ways to connect their classrooms to take their students’ learning environments outside of their 4 walls in their building. Do you think these teachers are going to wait until next school year to try these tools and tips they learned about at this conference? I know the teachers in my school building that went were implementing changes the next Monday in their classroom. I bet they even wished we had school over the weekend so they could have implemented the changes the very next day!

Why wait to implement a change when you have identified something that needs changed and you have an idea of how to change it? Sure, there are natural breaks in the school year, like quarters, semesters, and school years, but Mondays are also a natural break to implement something new in your classroom as well.  What will you do differently in your classroom on Monday? After all, it’s a new day!

Advertisements

People Matter

Image

I just finished reading Todd Whitaker’s book What Great Principals Do Differently – Fifteen Things That Matter Most. I am eager to learn all that I can on this topic as I have recently obtained my Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, and while I don’t have an ‘official’ role in this area yet, it’s not too soon to learn from those who have figured it out already. Between this book and the role model my current principal, Ron McAllister (@rondmac) have been, I feel I am off to a good start.

I found myself taking notes while reading the book as if Mr. Whitaker was going to reveal a magical formula at any moment. What I realized though while taking in his stories and advice is that at the core of everything he shared was that we need to remember that we need to never lose sight that we are in the people business, not just education.

While he shared 15 important things principals need to intentionally focus on, they all come down to one overarching theme – people matter.

Everything from hiring the right people, to investing time and training into the people, to listening to the people, and to respecting the people play a role in being an effective principal. Mr. Whitaker does a much better job at explaining all of these areas than I can, but he definitely made an impact on me.

It’s not just rolling out a new initiative to your staff, or checking off a checklist of things that need to be done, or handling discipline issues during the day, it goes much deeper than that. As a principal you need to seek out the best teachers in your building to filter your ideas and to learn from them, and when there are staff openings you need to fill those positions with teachers who can contribute to the building from day one. A teacher may be very knowledgeable in their content, but are they what’s best for students in that classroom? I don’t think any teacher wakes up in the morning with bad intentions for teaching their students, but the most effective teachers wake up with having higher expectations for themselves as a teacher each day. When those teachers realize that everything they do for their students needs to try and be better than it was in their classroom the day before, they take to heart their job and make that personal connection with their students to help them learn the content and let them know they care about them as a person.

The same can be said for effective principals. When teachers realize that their principal takes time to get to know them both professionally and personally, supports them when needed with students and parents, and models for them what respect looks like in all situations, then there are no limits to what that school can achieve. If relationships are the focus, then I believe the test scores will take care of themselves. Teachers will feel valued and want to do all they can for their students, and students will notice the effort their teachers are taking and they will want to participate in the engaging lessons.

Running a school is a daunting task I’m sure, but as long as you keep what’s best for all students at the heart of what you and your staff are doing, then you can know that you are on the right path. There will always be room for improvement, but by concentrating your efforts on the people in your building, then you will know what needs to be done and will find ways to model for them what they need in order to grow to become the best person they can be both in and out of the classroom.

I Believe…

I sat down tonight and wrote my belief statements as an educational leader.  Trying to put into words everything I believe about my role and education in a few sentences was challenging.  Please read what I’ve included, and I would appreciate your feedback on any gaps you may notice that I need to revisit.

I believe all decisions need to ensure they are student focused and made because they are best for students, and not because they are the easiest thing to do.

I believe all students can learn, but it is my role to make learning engaging and relevant to individual learners so they want to learn each day.

I believe technology needs to have an active role in education today to connect students globally and teach them to apply their knowledge to create new and improved products, while also preparing them for life after school.

I believe it is my role to help support the administration, students, teachers and parents and form a partnership between school and home to best serve the students.

I believe I need to continue to grow and learn each year just like I ask of my students.

What we do in education is much more than a bunch of words on a page, but these words are at the heart of who I am and what I do each day in my role.

PLN’s on Twitter

So, I have been a huge fan of using Twitter as my PLN for the last year, but in the last 24 hours I have had an even greater appreciation for its uses and power.  Earlier this school year my principal @rondmac and I (@jamburgy) shared a few tech sessions with our staff about the uses of Twitter in education.  Quickly, several teachers saw the benefits as well, and we have been sharing ideas in our building that we learn from others literally from all over the world.

Think back a few years about professional development….it could only happen on pre-selected days when teachers sat in rooms to hear a speaker on a topic that was pre-selected for them, or when they were lucky enough to go to an off-campus staff development seminar.  Now, it’s taking place for some teachers 24/7 and on any topic that interests them or meets their classroom needs. How is this possible? Twitter has revolutionalized education! And the # gives people instant access to anything they need on a topic!

In the last 24 hours I have connected with teacher leaders all over the world through “shout-outs” using the #FF hashtag where you mention others who are worth following.  Having others share my username with their followers opens up even more opportunities for me to connect to others that I would never have the chance to meet otherwise.  I would highly recommend participating in the #FF mentions on Fridays.

This morning I was looking at my Twitter page, and in my newsfeed I saw a reminder from @cybraryman1 about a chat getting ready to start that interested me, so I quickly joined the discussion.  (@cybraryman1 has a wealth of resources on his page for education!)  I participated in #satchat where I was able to discuss #BYOT and social media in schools with many influential teacher leaders.  As my school’s ITS, I was eager to see what other districts were doing with these practices.  I was also asked to share my school’s ustream video of chicks hatching in the science lab with #elemsci.  Just another way to share with other teachers around the world the great things going on at our school @VickeryCreekES!

And through Twitter I was asked to participate next week in a Google+ hangout with influential leaders in education about the importance of decision making; something I’m honored to be able to participate in!

Would any of this have been possible without connecting with others through my PLN network on Twitter? I would venture to say NO.  Two heads are always better than one, but finding those people willing to work on a common goal is so much easier though the use of Twitter.  Yes, I’m sold on its uses and power.  Now my goal is to share this with as many others as I can…..Oh, I guess I will use Twitter to share it!

My, How Things Have Changed!

As we think back to how education looked 30 years ago, it is a completely different entity than it was back then. When we were growing up going to school, teachers started teaching on page one of the textbook in September (not August!), and progressed in an orderly fashion through the book during the year. If it was not in the book, we did not do it; if it was in the book, then we were sure to do it. I am certain there were state curriculum standards, but as students, we thought teachers just taught us based on what was in the textbook. Class consisted of teachers standing in front of the room doing most of the talking, or writing with chalk on the chalkboard; students felt lucky if the teacher let them do a math problem with the chalk on the board.  If we needed to do a research project, we would go to the school library after school, and since it was not open very late, we usually ended up at the public library in the evenings and weekends doing our research. Before we could even begin looking for information, we had to know how to use a card catalog to find resources. If it was research material, chances are it was located on microfilm. (Remember those rolls of film we inserted into the machines that illuminated the tiny material onto a screen?) Once we found information, we had to pull out our stash of dimes and begin inserting them in the microfiche machine for copies. If we were lucky enough to find information from encyclopedias on the shelf, then we had to take out paper and pencil and begin to take notes or stand in line at the copy machine with some more dimes. These are just a few examples of how school used to be for students across America a generation ago.

When walking into a school building today, things look and feel a lot different than they did from even a few years ago. Interactive whiteboards attached to computers have replaced chalkboards, students sitting on the floor in circles working in groups based on individual learning needs have replaced desks in rows, hand-held technology devices have replaced handwriting paper, and online resources have replaced textbooks. Technology has completely transformed our classrooms over the last decade. Teachers now have access to resources from all over the world, whether it is for their students to use in class or for their own professional learning. If your class would like to go on a field trip to learn more about a topic – not a problem – you can participate in a virtual field trip with anyone who has a computer with internet access and a webcam, and there is usually no cost for these services. Instead of looking up words for homework and writing the definition five times in cursive on paper, students now use their hand-held devices to look up definitions of unknown words during reading assignments, and then type the definitions or apply them to something they studied in class earlier in the day. And who needs textbooks to teach or worksheets to hand out to students?  Teachers are no longer bound by the resources pre-scripted on paper in books made years earlier.  Remember math class being the same every day? Students did the odd numbered problems in class, and the even numbered problems for homework. Teachers today have learned how to use online resources that align with grade level standards, and when they have a question about what to do for a lesson, they can collaborate with their PLC group from around the world. Teachers assign projects where students create something with the knowledge gained from lessons, not simply just reading about it in their textbook or doing one step problems/questions at the end of the chapter.

Technology is a tool to use in the classroom, but it takes more than just having new, shiny tools to make a difference. A person could go out to a hardware store and buy $1,000 worth of power tools, but that doesn’t mean they could build a beautiful house with those tools. Learning how to use the tools where the worker is in control of the objective and training those entrusted to their care is paramount to their success. Allowing workers the freedom to decide how best to use the materials is what separates custom homes from prefabricated homes.

In the classroom, we want our teachers to train students how to use the technology and how to think and apply the content. Good teachers no longer expect every student to do the same thing to show mastery of a standard. With the integration of technology in the classrooms, students and teachers now have more options for what occurs in their classroom. Students can do their research quicker because of instant access to online resources, so more time is now allocated to applying what was learned. This technology has completely changed the level of instruction and learning that takes place in classrooms around the world.

More than just the physical change in schools and the types of projects being completed, there is a noticeable change in the attitudes of teachers towards students. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of world anymore. Teachers want to ensure that all students learn, and they strive to learn and implement ways to make that happen. Whereas teachers used to teach a topic one day and move on the next whether the class was ready or not, now teachers use formative assessments to drive instruction each day. Sure, technology helps students do tasks more quickly than they used to, interact and collaborate with others around the world more freely, organize classroom data quickly, and create engaging lesson plans for their students, but classrooms have changed even beyond that. Teachers rely on their standards and feedback from students to guide instruction; they are not bound by a textbook. In fact, many teachers no longer even use textbooks in their classrooms. Yes, technology has made it easier for some of the recent improvements to occur in classrooms, but more so than even the technology, there is something bigger that has changed the way classrooms look and feel. It’s the mindset of teachers that has revolutionized the modern classroom. This new mindset has had a huge impact on the learning and lives of students all over America. Thank goodness things have changed! I can’t imagine ever going back to the way things used to be!